Sunday, 8 March 2009

Action on Haiti for International Women's Day

Today is International Women's Day (IWD). It's not simply a day for us to look in the mirror and say "gee I'm great", although I highly recommend this as an activity; it was intended by Clara Zetkin, when she first launched it in 1911, as a day for women all over the world to simultaneously advocate their demands for equality. And this year, as in previous years, women and our allies are meeting in various fora to mark the day and to assess plans of action for redressing the issues that affect us. You can pay a visit to the IWD website for activities in your area.

On this day, as someone who has worked with women's issues in international organizations and with national governments, I'm considering to what extent international conventions on the rights of women - to which most countries are signatories - are in any measure effective, especially in countries where civil society is not able to monitor governments' adherence to these conventions.

I'm also off to sign Amnesty International's petition of protest at Haiti's high incidence of rape, often of young girls by armed gangs. The Guardian reports that "the government, which only made rape a crime in 2005, has taken little or no action to hunt down the offenders, among whom are said to be police officers."

So until 2005, in Haiti, which is just across the road from Barbados and the neighbour of the Dominican Republic where I lived for some time, it was perfectly legal to rape a woman. US aid to help stop the spread of HIV, which occurs largely through sexual violence, has been primarily directed to programmes that promote abstinence and faithfulness within marriage, rather than on protecting women from forced sex.

Come with me to sign the petition if you'd like, and do share what else you'll be doing or thinking on this International Women's Day.

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